Claudia Prado is a partner at Baker & McKenzie. She is a member of the Firm’s Global Executive Committee, chairs the Firm’s Financial Committee and Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and is the Regional Chairman of the Latin America Regional Council.
A career in law
In Brazil, we don’t have to go to college before entering a profession so you have to make your career choices quite early on. I had to make that decision at 16 and I had no idea what to be! I came from a very traditional family and my family were quite keen for me to become a doctor but the bigger draw for me, was the law.
I was 17 when I started law school. I started to find my way quite quickly as I really like this field. My first practical experience of the law was working as a trainee at Baker & McKenzie. I started my career here and have now been at this firm for 31 years.
US vs Brazil
I have worked and studied in both the US and Brazil. While I was working in our Chicago office, I could see a big difference in terms of the number of female partners. I was shocked to see that there were not as many females working in Chicago as I was used to seeing in Brazil.
I have to admit culturally, because we have a different approach to family living near us which is different from the US, we have more support from parents and relatives. To me, this played a big role in seeing women succeeding in their career. It explained why women in other countries were not progressing at the same rate as women lawyers in Brazil.
However, now it’s completely changed and there is a real strong awareness of developing diversity within all professions. The US is doing this in a more structured way by implementing and structuring diversity programs. In Brazil, we focus on gender diversity but unfortunately we do not currently give the same weight to other pillars of diversity such LGBT and ethnic minorities as we see in the US. The US is much more advanced in diversity as a whole than Brazil. People have a better sense of social responsibility both in the community and in society there.
Diversity in Brazil
Brazil is very distinct in terms of diversity. Brazilian society is much more open-minded compared to other countries in Latin America. We have created a lot of opportunities for women as part as our culture. You see so much success in different regions you go to in Brazil as there are a number of women in high positions from legal counsel to partners. Our firm has been very open-minded to the progression of women and it has a lot to do with the local culture and the culture of our firm. When the firm started to discuss diversity policies, we wanted to show what we have done to become successful. I believe a large part of the growth of women in the legal profession is based on the influx of female role models over the past decade or so.
We have also launched a number of targets which give additional benefits for women and increases the responsibility for developing and sponsoring more women. I was 17 when I joined the firm and there was a very successful partner in the office. She was not only successful in her career but in her personal life, as she was married with children. I was very pleased to see that you can have a successful career and a thriving personal life. This is the exact environment we have created and sustained in the Brazilian offices.
At Bakers, we have a global policy on LGBT, gender, culture and ethnic minorities. We respect local cultures and apply our policies to all of our offices throughout the world. We have different approaches in terms of aspirational targets and we actively develop and promote women in partnership and leadership positions. In terms of LGBT and ethnic minority lawyers, we believe creating an environment of respect, tolerate, zero tolerance against discrimination is the utmost priority. However in certain initiatives, we do have to respect local laws and customs. In regards to the changing nature of the profession and of being open-minded, this change is not only towards women but also towards LGBT and ethnic minority lawyers.
In Brazil, it is difficult to develop people from other races as we don’t find it is that diverse in terms of ethnicity. The Brazilian government has created quotas in universities for people from minority backgrounds and we are continually promoting more minorities to develop and work within law firms.
We have our global pro bono strategy here which has to respect local regulations. In Brazil, we have bar restrictions on pro bono work so these initiatives have to be approved by the Brazilian bar. We need to incentivise more lawyers to do pro bono work by recognising the hours they spend for targets, bonuses and compensation. The firm has been developing incentives to make pro bono doable and practical and this is something we shall continue to focus on.